As you know, I am away this week on business for Fivecat Studio and I will not be publishing a podcast episode. If you need your weekly fix of the Entrepreneur Architect Podcast, I recommend that you search the archives and find an older episode that interests you. There are more than 30 to choose from.
As a bonus this week, in lieu of the podcast, I am sharing an additional blog article. The following was actually a comment left by my friend Greg La Vardera after he listened to the most recent podcast episode. I thought his words were so valuable for others to read, I asked him if I could share them here as an article.
Turning Work Away is Not Good for You or the Profession
I listened to your recent podcast titled How To Raise Your Fees and I agree that it’s a great message. However I have to take exception to the overall strategy of rejecting small projects. I completely understand why you would do this and why it is good for your practice. I would counter however that it’s not so good for the profession.
Taking a tip from your past post, 7 Reasons Why Small Firm Architects Should NOT Abandon the AIA, I’d like to suggest 7 Reasons Why Architects Should not Abandon Small Projects.
1. Turning away a potential client that comes to you for help is never a PR move, even if you refer them to a colleague who does a great job. It leaves people with the impression that their project is not big enough or important enough, except maybe for an architect with a struggling practice or low skills. Imagine your doctor turning you away because your cold or allergy is not serious enough? Practically unheard of.
2. It reinforces the impressions of architects as elitists or only serving the well-to-do client. If we want to expand the domain of architects into more of the housing market, then we have to be prepared to serve people that come to you with small scale projects.
3. Small projects are a challenge. Doing a small project profitably is not an easy task. A single phone call can push you from profit to loosing money on a tiny job, but if you get good at delivering value to clients in these situations, you’ll learn lessons that you can apply to make you more profitable all across your practice.
4. Small projects are potentially very profitable. The consumer understands that small quantities are often more expensive, on a unit basis, than large quantities. Anybody that has shopped at a buyers club and taken home jumbo sized packaging understands this, and is likely to tolerate a higher rate of charges for a small scope of work. If you can do that work efficiently, it can be a very profitable project.
5. Some of these prospects once turned away may not work with an architect at all. They may work with the builder to design the project, or an unlicensed designer. Once they get their project done this way there is likely no way to recover the karma lost on that opportunity. The story that person will tell forever more is “No, we did not need an architect to do this and you don’t either”. We as a profession cannot afford to give that story legs.
6. Some prospects will come to you, not with a small project, but with an expectation of a very low cost for your services. “I’d like you to design a house for me for 5,000 dollars”. Impossible. Yes, impossible for custom design services, but every architect should be prepared with what I call a Five Thousand Dollar Solution for a prospect like this. Whether it is a group of reusable house designs, your own catalog of offerings, or a standardized detail package that only requires floor plans, you should be able to offer that prospect a solution at much less cost than a custom design. And here’s the kicker – that solution should also be potentially much more profitable for you. A modification of an existing plan or some other scope of work is easy for you to achieve because it uses a body of already complete work.
7. I don’t really have 7 reasons. I just used that number because Mark used it on his post about the AIA, but you get the gist. Limiting your practice may be good for you on the surface, or it may be good for the friend to whom you refer your small projects, but it could be better for you, as well as for the profession, to take on that work being mindful of expanding the domain of architectural services for everybody.
What are YOUR thoughts? Should architects serve EVERY market?
Greg La Vardera is an architect practicing in Merchantville, NJ outside of Philadelphia. Aside from his local practice, his work has included off-site building techniques, design and marketing of house plan products and the development of energy efficient wall systems based on Swedish precedents. Greg is also is a founding partner of ByggHouse LLC, a construction technology consultancy focused on scandinavian building technology.
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